Posted by dsgran
When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.
Taking a cue from Halsman, we began our investigation of shutter speed in our Introduction to Photography class this year by letting our masks fall off in mid-air. We began by taking a look at some of Halsman's jumping portraits - Nixon, Monroe, Martin and Lewis, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and Dali to name a few.
The photo seen here, Dali Atomicus, is perhaps the most famous from his series, and the one we spent the most time talking about. It took Dali and Halsman 28 tries and over six hours to get the photo right- demonstrating that even at speeds in the fractions of a second- a good photograph can take quite a long time. I do love this photo, and I've shown it nearly all of my classes whenever I can find the excuse. The students will invariably ask if the cats were harmed during the process. I haven't seen any information to suggest that they had been, and if that isn't comfort enough, I tell them at least they didn't blow up the chicken.
Unlike Halsman, we didn't have any cats to throw around*, so we substituted some brightly colored plastic balls that I picked up from one of the 'small items markets' (or as some of us call them, 'junkaterias') in downtown Shanghai. It was a beautiful day here (maybe a little hot), but perfect for a outdoor shoot.
Capturing people in mid air was a useful way of exploring the use of a fast shutter speed. The colorful balls also added a random element that will help bridge from this exercise into a discussion of composition. You can see some of our results here:
...and yes, of course I jumped too.
*This is not entirely true- we have an extended family of feral cats living on our grounds here, one of which crashed down out of the ceiling, nearly on top of the principal's head at our pre-christmas staff meeting last year. However, the cats are (a) not ours to throw, (b) feral, and (c) not easy to find without crawling through the ductwork in the school.